In April, daughter Jennifer had broken the sad news to my granddaughters Lily, 10, and Anna, 8, that there was no Santa, just as they suspected. The kids, their mother, and their grandmother cried themselves to sleep that night, lamenting the loss of the childhood icon and the end of an era. Christmas just wouldn’t be as charmed from now on, we all thought.
But we were wrong. A new idea transformed our holiday into something bigger this year and, I think, something better than a mere mound of gifts left under our tree. The girls’ Uncle Michael gets the credit for introducing gratitude.
The day after he arrived from Mexico to spend Christmas with us in California, Michael handed each of his nieces a crisp hundred dollar bill.
“Have you ever touched a ‘Benjamin’ before?” he kidded. Wide-eyed, they shook their heads.
“Well, here’s what I’d like you to do with the money,” he said. “A lot of people are hurting financially this year. I’d like you to think of ways to spend your one hundred dollars on someone else. To spread the love around and make someone’s Christmas a little more merry. What do you say?”
They liked the idea and started to brainstorm. On TV they’d heard about a food bank trying to fill holiday baskets. Another place took care of families and said they always needed baby diapers. At the mall they’d seen a Christmas tree blanketed with tags from kids asking for simple gifts like tee shirts and soccer balls. Or they could give some money to the local children’s hospital. Or stuff some in the Salvation Army bucket outside of Target. They were excited about all the options they had.
The following day we headed for Costco, where Lily selected cans, jars, and cartons of foodstuffs for a local food bank, her cart loaded to overflowing. At the register, she grinned from ear to ear when the clerk told her, “Your total comes to $100.78.”
Anna’s turn came next. At the mall, she chose a handful of gift requests from the tag-covered tree, then rode the escalator up to her favorite stores to pick presents for little girls who asked for a hoodie, a Dora doll, a backpack, and a toy microscope. Back at the tree, a man took the packages from her outstretched arms and thanked her for her generosity.
“That made me feel really good,” said Anna later, from the backseat of our car. “We should do this every year.”
So Lily and Anna didn’t lose Santa after all; they replaced him, playing Santa themselves with their own acts of generosity. Acts that befitted the true spirit of the season and, I hope, will become a new family tradition. Well played, Uncle Michael.